Migration Processes and Their Impact on the Economy and Politics


In recent years, massive urbanization does culminate in socio-economic and political change. Although violence is not the inevitable outcome of such processes, it still is an outcome of sufficient frequency that we are confronted with an apparent correlation that must be explained. The concern should be with the broader patterns of urban expansion and political instability, and it is the authors’ assertion from the outset that such processes in the developing countries are comparable with similar dynamics elsewhere in the world. The goal of the paper is to shed light on the causes of migration and to describe the main features of migration processes. Thesis Transitional out-migration has a negative impact on the developing country and leads to economic and political instability.

Discussion Section

Critics and social scientists claim that there is a relationship between out-migration and instability. Obviously, such grievances may result from a growth in cities caused by out-migration or other factors such as decreases in infant mortality, increases in population, and so forth. Yet it is essential to acknowledge that not all urban growth is bad nor does it inevitably culminate in political instability. Thus, consistent, unmitigated misery may be politically less destabilizing than sharp or precipitous declines in the status quo (Castles and Miller, 2009). And the origins of these problems, as well as their solutions, lie more in the realm of politics than in the more obvious but perhaps less significant psychological responses to urban growth that researchers subordinates to political factors. Put differently, just because people are unhappy in cities does not automatically mean that they will engage in political violence or even destabilizing political activity (Brettell and Frank 2007).

According to researchers of political instability, rebellion, and revolution, the two particularly suggestive factors that promote instability are abrupt changes in either the price or availability of food and constrictions in the labor market in which employment is either unavailable or in short supply. It is most important to note, however, that the significance of these variables lies in the strains that they place upon the political system (Vias, 2001). Although the pressures that promote political violence may be psychological in origin, its target, as well as the areas in which reform is most desperately needed, fall squarely within the political sector. Although drought can obviously produce food shortages, in today’s world such shortages are just as likely to develop because of a government’s elimination of food subsidies (Sharpe, 2001).

Transitional out-migration problems that governments find themselves incapable of solving, or for which they lack the will or incentive to seek solutions, are as damaging to these governments as are more obvious challenges such as war, invasion, or drought. It is the interaction of this area of governmental inefficacy, as pointed out by Norton and his collaborators, with such psychological factors as popular anger, resentment, and generalized feelings of relative deprivation that form the central focus. In short, political instability is a political process that is exacerbated by the tangible economic and psychological tolls of urban growth. Government deficiencies are particularly evident to those in cities who not only bear witness to such inefficacy but are forced to suffer from it as well (Vias, 2001).

It is evident that the problem of unmanaged urban growth in the Middle East is of great concern to governments, various international organizations, and obviously to urban dwellers themselves. Although the above problems were cited in the Western press, similar stories abound in the developing countries media as well, although levels of journalistic freedom dictate how far critics will go in their indictments of governments for not solving such problems or even for having helped to create them in the first place. The urban expansion will continue well into the twenty-first century. The proportion of urban to rural dwellers is steadily rising throughout the region so that by the year 2020 the ratio is estimated to be 70 percent urban to 30 percent rural, a dramatic increase from the 40 percent / 60 percent ratio of 1960. It is sobering to see the growth not only of the megacities of Cairo and Tehran but also of once-smaller cities such as Mashhad and Algiers. In the future, many more cities will make their way into the multimillion population category. Whereas only a few countries in 1950 or even 1965 were at least 50 percent urban, their number more than tripled by 1990, and the majority of the countries of the Middle East are now urban (Brettell and Frank 2007).

Given the difficult problems brought by massive out-migration, it is important to ask why there has not been more political upheaval throughout the developing countries Where upheaval has occurred, Despite the absence of conceptually based social scientific agreement on the relationship between urban population increases and political instability, researchers have attempted to hypothesize a sequence of events that focuses on the migration aspect of urban growth and describes abandonment of the rural sector, movement to the cities, and ultimately either spontaneous urban political violence or a gradual, relatively smooth integration into the life of the city (Hatton 2006). A self-conscious attempt has been made to explore broadly what the political consequences of urbanization may be. Microanalysis has not been abandoned per se, but instead, we have relied on our familiarity with specific Middle Eastern and Latin American cases in order to draw broader theoretical conclusions than would otherwise be the case. It soon becomes evident that the causal relationship between urbanization and political instability can be explained. Although not every condition is present in every case, a diverse enough series of probable causalities do exist so that they can help to account for a number of cases (Sharpe, 2001).

People leave their traditional rural areas and even their families in order to satisfy a material need. This need can result from food or employment shortages or reflect the desire for education or the wish to join family members who have already left the countryside, presumably for economic reasons. Such factors as a stagnant rural economy, a growing urban economy, rural deterioration, or a combination of all of these are likely to persuade rural dwellers to take their chances in the city. Even if the situation in the city is uninviting, in periods of severe drought or rural deprivation migrants may feel they have no alternative and will feel compelled to make their way to the cities anyway (Hatton 2006).

People do not suffer the privations of leaving homes, friends, and families lightly. Migrants move to cities to find something lacking in their villages, and this is generally for material benefit and not spiritual satisfaction. Thus Islam per se is rarely if ever the motivation for the movements of people (Castles and Miller, 2009). The result in the Middle East has been rapid urban overpopulation with cities growing at an unmanageable pace. How this move affects the migrants and changes the cities as well, is the primary explanatory goal of the model. Unchecked urban growth in the Middle East directly or indirectly results in changes to those relocating to urban centers, to traditional urban dwellers, and to the cities themselves. For example, not every migrant will receive better health care in the city, but in general, the city will offer improved services. Improvements in infant mortality and life expectancy have both covaried in the developing countries about as dramatically as has urban growth (Sharpe, 2001).

Critics assume that the relocation of millions from agriculture-based villages to industry- and service-based cities would have a strong negative effect on diet. The data show that commonplace indicators of nutrition, such as per capita daily caloric intake, have significantly increased in the Middle East during the same time periods as exploding urbanization (Hatton 2006). For example, in Egypt the urban population doubled between 1965 and 1990–from 12 million to 24 million–while daily calories per capita rose from 2,399 to 3,336. Algeria’s urban population tripled to over 13 million during this same time while the number of daily calories per person rose by 69 percent, from 1,701 to 2,886. Yet, as indicated earlier, increased calorie consumption does not necessarily mean good or even adequate nutrition (Brettell and Frank 2007).

One of the most powerful forces for out-migrants is education. In many developing nations, urban educational facilities and instruction are vastly superior to what the village has to offer, often propagating an aptitude gap between peasants and urbanites that permanently restricts employment opportunities for the children of rural families. In addition, the city is often the exclusive locale for technical, vocational, and university education. Increased levels of education provide a path to social and economic advancement (Castles and Miller, 2009). As indicated in the model, these three products of rapid urbanization–improved access to health services, improved diet, and education-enhanced economic opportunities–disprove the popular assumption that the inevitable consequence of rapid urbanization is increased levels of perceived relative deprivation. Such outgrowths of urbanization also cause further urbanization and are, therefore, presented in the model as reciprocal relationships. Unfortunately, urban growth in the developing countries has numerous undesirable consequences also. One of these is the downside of increased education: unemployment and underemployment. Many nations are suffering the same fate as Tunisia, where a great many of the seventy thousand who graduate from the educational system into the workforce each year are unable to find work commensurate with their hard-earned qualifications. Education without adequate employment generates despair, hopelessness, and resentment toward apparently unconcerned governments (Sharpe, 2001).

A changed urban environment is an additional by-product of rapid urban growth in developing countries. Large urban cities such as Tehran, Istanbul, Ankara, or Casablanca are rimmed by or engulf communities of impoverished recent arrivals. As part of their baggage, urban migrants transfer their rural lifestyles from the countryside to the city. New arrivals can be overwhelmed by modern medical practices, packaged food, or the technologies of communication. The stereotypical donkey cart competing for space with the Mercedes Benz on a narrow road symbolizes many such rural-urban juxtapositions when peasants invade the city (Castles and Miller, 2009). Large numbers of transplanted peasants combine to “dilute” the modernization of the city. Urban migrants usually cluster in the poorest neighborhoods or expanding shantytowns, creating a two-tier city and “segmental” modernization, where one sector of the community benefits disproportionately from economic growth. The poorest inhabitants of the city typically suffer disproportionately from this segmental modernization, and resentment is commonly the outcome. Large-scale urban migration disrupts religious, societal, political, and familial patterns and practices as well (Hatton 2006). The established safety net of the village is gone, especially for migrants who venture into the city without relatives awaiting them. Gender and family norms usually differ significantly in the modern city, where television and movies project romance, independence, materialism, and “Western” values to the newly arrived peasant family. This sudden confrontation with modern mores is often seen by peasants as an assault on their traditional values. Furthermore, it can promote alienation from “modern” political practices such as voting and participation in various associational groups (Brettell and Frank 2007).

The degree of urban-based politicization may be unmatched in contemporary cities. Nevertheless, the apparent incompatibility of rural (old) and urban (new) values exists to such a degree that reports of angry parents burning video stores or heated debates over the legitimacy of female circumcision surface occasionally in the media. With extremely rapid urban growth, the orderly assimilation of peasants into the urban value system is virtually impossible due to the sheer number of new arrivals involved. Instead, many urban migrants are likely to reinforce one another’s adherence to conservative traditions and values rather than to abandon them in favor of questionable new modes of behavior. This inevitably leads to tensions, disruptions, and, it appears, to higher levels of relative deprivation. Furthermore, it must be emphasized that the disenfranchised urban masses are made up not solely of migrants but also those born and raised in the cities but who are largely excluded from their political and economic life (Sharpe, 2001).

This important process clearly plays an important if not completely understood role in the social and political life of the region. Certainly, urbanization results not only from rural to urban migration but also from numerous other factors within cities themselves (Castles and Miller, 2009). Thus, our goal should be to understand all stimuli contributing to urbanization as well as the broader implications of this urban growth. Although the political ramifications of unfettered urbanization cannot be ignored, the mechanics of occasional instability require further research. The relationship between transitional out-migration and political instability modeled here recognizes the need for a more systematic and comparative perspective for the analysis of this interplay (Hatton 2006).

The connection that poor migrants had been unable to construct between their own worsening economic condition and government policy was, in the end, constructed for them by the regime’s opposition forces. The visible and growing inequality of wealth in the country made the task of mobilization easier, yet the response of the poor was overwhelmingly expressed in religious terms. Because of the role of the migrants in their political associations, the clerical establishment had the organization and leadership necessary to encourage the marginalized and disenfranchised to take previously unfamiliar action. Mobilization efforts were ultimately successful because the religious dimension was the dominant mode of expression (Brettell and Frank 2007).

It is important to note that the world is not only populated by poor people struggling along and global corporations closely integrated among themselves, and their respective advocates. The political logic of globally organized mass production, which transcends territorial borders, undermines states and replaces government planning with corporate planning, is perhaps dominant in the discourse conducted in public media. In practice, however, most people do not base their livelihood on working for global mass producers. Either they work in the now contracting state apparatuses, which for this reason can draw on a vested interest in their defense against free-market politics, or they work in small and medium-sized units, local in scope and ranging from one-person enterprises and upwards. This is the case particularly in the Third World as it is likely to be in any economy predominantly based on agriculture and small-scale trading, but is also emerging as a significant phenomenon in Eastern Europe (Sharpe, 2001).

The many and heterogeneous forms of small-scale local production are not easy to grasp under the sweeping categorizations so characteristic of global and national politics. The workers and enterprise owners who populate this sphere of economic life are also much more difficult to distinguish from each other and organize separately, than the magnates of mass production and the workers they employ Politically, the interests of small-scale producers and traders, therefore, tend to be subsumed under those of other groups with which they overlap to a smaller or greater extent: peasants, farmers, workers, professionals or burghers, as the case may be (Sharpe, 2001; Castles and Miller, 2009). If the population of the urban areas continues to increase at the predicted rates, even with declining fertility the cities are in trouble.

Increasing food insecurity is a growing problem in the Middle East and the developing world. As these nations find it more and more difficult to produce enough of their own food, they must depend on imports of food. This is also partly the result of policies that provide relatively cheap imported food for the urban populations, providing little incentive for the local farmers to produce food for their own cities. There is also the problem that much valuable agricultural land is being lost to expanding cities, which lessens the agricultural production within specific countries. For instance, some of the best agricultural land in Egypt is being lost as Cairo and other cities expand into the surrounding countryside. Areas that once were entirely agricultural have become urban landscapes within only decades. Much of the Egyptian delta is also being lost to agriculture, as Cairo expands northward and as towns and villages of the delta itself become larger and larger, encroaching upon their own livelihood. Even high=rise apartment buildings are becoming part of the landscape of many villages of the Nile delta (Hatton 2006). The first priority of these countries, then, must be family planning and slowing the rate of growth of their populations (with the oil-rich states, however, not being in such a critical situation).


In sum, transitional out-migration hinders developing nations and leads to economic and political instability. And within cities, the local environmental problems tend to be worse in the poorer neighborhoods, where there may be inadequate water supplies, bad sanitation, and accumulations of garbage and solid wastes. The reason that so many problems are often high-pressure points in developing countries is poverty. Political instability caused by transitional out-migration must be confronted by the leaders of the cities of the Middle East and–more importantly–by those who have the power, the elites of these nations. Yet, the programs and commitments for addressing urban poverty are meager and inadequate, and the poor are ignored in favor of privatization and anti-inflationary austerity stabilization or structural adjustment programs. Stabilization packages always aim for a reduction in government spending, and consumer subsidies are usually some of the largest government expenditures.

List of References

Brettell Caroline and James Frank. 2007, Migration Theory: Talking Across Disciplines. Routledge; 2 edition.

Castles, s., Miller, M. J. 2009, The Age of Migration, Fourth Edition: International Population Movements in the Modern World. The Guilford Press; Fourth Edition edition.

Hatton, T. J. 2006. International Migration and Economic Development: Lessons from Low-Income Countries. Economic Record, 82 (1), 33.

Sharpe, P. 2001. Women, Gender and Labour Migration: Historical and Global Perspectives. Routledge; 1 edition.

Vias, A. C. 2001. Reevaluating the Relationship between In-, Out-, and Net Migration for Nonmetropolitan Counties: An Update on Beale’s U-Shaped Curve. Geographical Analysis, 33 (1), 43.

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